Monday, December 11, 2017

A Christmas Ornament Collector's Fantasy Sale

Chronica Domus
Christmas arrived early in the Chronica Domus household this year thanks to the 
ornament score of the century
Photo: Chronica Domus


Old-fashioned, blown glass Christmas tree ornaments have held a special place in my heart since childhood.  My mother had a selection of them to decorate the family's Christmas tree along with tinsel and, on occasion, something that to the eyes of a child resembled cotton cobwebs, a rather poor imitation of snow I believe.  When I first started my own collection of vintage blown glass Christmas tree ornaments, way back when I landed on this side of the pond in the early 1990's, I was agog to discover the vast quantities available for the picking.  Collective antiques shops and thrift stores proved to be fertile stomping grounds for the unusual geometric shapes which comprised my collection.  Back then, over-stuffed plastic bags of ornaments could be purchased for a pittance.

Over the years, as more people have discovered the joys of decorating their trees with these beguiling baubles, hunting them down become a challenging sport for me.  Nowadays, it is a happy and increasingly rare day when I score a handful of fragile 1920's German indents or a World War II era pine cone.

With this in mind, you can only imagine how ecstatic I was when my friend Jeannette, a fellow ornament devotee, and I recently attended a sale so extraordinary it was hard to believe we had not conjured it up from our wildest fantasies.  Yes, we really were awake, and this really was the Sale of The Century as far as these things go.  In fact, there were so many items up for grabs that the sale took place over multiple days.  Jeannette and I found it difficult to keep away, and thus we attended not once, but twice.  What lucky girls we were!

Alas, in my dizzy excitement, I failed to take along my camera but if you'd care to see a fraction of the thousands of exceptional and rare items that were on offer, do please visit the blog of Addison Studio Sale where the many photographs included in the links found here, here, and here, will give you a delicious taste of what we saw.

Chronica Domus
Ron Morgan's fifty year-in-the-making Christmas collection was up for sale and proved to be an ornament collector's wildest fantasy come true


The collection was amassed over the span of fifty years by Ron Morgan, a well-known local floral designer who recently moved to Mexico.  Mr. Morgan had an unerring eye when it came to the quality and rarity of items included in his collection. The blown glass German ornaments, Dresden cardboard figures, Putz animals and houses, strings of glass beads, goose feather trees, lametta tinsel, Belsnickel Father Christmas figures, candy containers, German glass kugels in all shapes, colors, and sizes, together with an assortment of other Christmas ephemera and novelties really should have landed in a museum, en masse.  I doubt there's another collection quite like it anywhere else in the world.  As it is, Mr. Morgan made many hundreds of keen enthusiasts of Christmas past extremely happy with their recent purchases of items rarely seen on the market.  Below is the selection of the glass ornaments I was fortunate enough to have hauled away from the sale.

Chronica Domus
Most of these fragile blown glass ornaments were made in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
These are German kugels and were made in the mid to late-nineteenth century, constructed of heavier glass with stamped brass hangers they are extremely sought after and are a rarity
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
 I look forward to hanging these whimsical beauties from the boughs of our Christmas tree ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
... alongside these icy beauties
Photo: Chronica Domus


I also had the chance of snapping up two early-nineteenth century blown glass vessels known as fairy lights or lanterns.  I believe these might actually be leech bowls or jars that someone converted into fairy lights with the clever use of a bit of old tinsel.  These cradled small wax candles and helped to cast light on the Christmas tree.  Not particularly safe, I know, but lovely nonetheless.

Chronica Domus
Hmmm... are these fairy lights or leech bowls or jars I wonder?  
Photo: Chronica Domus


Jeannette and I are so chuffed with our latest Christmas treasures that our thirst for such things has been quenched, at least we think, for now.  On the drive home from the second of the two sales, we revisited the issue of how dire our storage issues have become.  In one fell swoop, things just got a lot worse.  We agreed, however, that at least they had worsened for the very best of reasons, an abundance of beautiful Christmas tree ornaments.  Our latest haul is truly an embarrassment of riches.

What is it that you enjoy decorating your tree with, and do you have a favorite ornament you would like to tell me about?


Sunday, November 26, 2017

In Support of Small Business Saturday

About five years ago I began to notice posters going up in certain neighborhoods at this time of the year, encouraging shoppers to patronize small businesses.  It only dawned on me recently that those posters were advertising something known as Small Business Saturday, the day directly following the dreaded Black Friday.  I am sure you are already well versed in the concept of Black Friday shopping but in case you are not, it involves frantically racing around department stores and big box chains, often to the point of the ridiculous, even during the wee hours of the morning (aka midnight),  in search of bargains. Surely, I am not alone when I say that the entire idea of Black Friday could not be more unpalatable. I suppose that is the reason why Small Business Saturday came into being.

Supporting small independent neighborhood businesses is nothing new to me.  In fact, it is my preferred way of shopping when it comes to both food items and household goods and services.  Last year on Small Business Saturday, for example, I took a pair of boots to the local cobbler to be re-heeled, and then walked to the dry cleaner to drop off my winter coat which was in need of a cleaning.  I value the services of these small neighborhood businesses so make a point of patronizing them whenever possible.  In today's throwaway culture and Internet shopping-obsessed world, these businesses need all the support they can get.  Of course, I am only too happy to oblige.

Yesterday, finding ourselves with a day devoid of obligations, and a daughter busy with friends, my husband and I hopped into the motor car and headed north across the Golden Gate bridge to Petaluma, a favorite little town full of small, one-of-a-kind businesses.  We could not think of a better place to be on Small Business Saturday.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera at home but just to give you an idea, we saw plenty of these on our adventure through the town:

The shopkeepers of many small businesses in Petaluma were giving away these tote
bags to their patrons


There were people everywhere enjoying the cooler weather outdoors between bouts of early Christmas shopping.  Many of the merchants provided complimentary nibbles and beverages which only encouraged patrons to linger a little longer than perhaps is usual while they perused the merchandise on offer.

Of course, I did my bit in support of Small Business Saturday and visited all the antiques shops in town.  I came away with a handful of vintage glass Christmas tree ornaments which will surely find their way onto our tree later next month.  I also found a delightful early-nineteenth century English creamware mug decorated with pleasing pink luster (or would that be lustre?) bands and a purple bat print scene of a shepherdess and two shepherds.  The mug stands three inches high and three and a half inches across.  I was thrilled to bits with the newest addition to my ceramics collection especially as it had been discounted by 15% in honor of today's shopping event.

Chronica Domus
So pleased to have taken home a little treasure in support of Small Business Saturday yesterday
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
My new old mug as photographed from the back
Photo: Chronica Domus


When we eventually made our way home during the early evening hours, we stopped off at our favorite local Italian eatery in search of a delicious and comforting dinner.  Once again, there we were supporting yet another local small business.

What an enjoyable day, and evening, Small Business Saturday turned out to be for us this year. And, although our dinner is long-gone, at least I get to keep my mug as a pleasant reminder that supporting small independent businesses yields unique items not easily found at the mall or in big box chains.

Did you get out and about yesterday in support of your favorite small businesses?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

It seems like it was just yesterday when I think back to who was sitting with us at our dining table last Thanksgiving, partaking in our annual celebratory Dinner For Waifs and Strays.  Today, my family and I feel privileged that our merry little group has again reunited to give thanks and to count our blessings.

This year, a few of our strays have indeed strayed, to lands afar, and will be missed but not forgotten.  Another is spending the day with an elderly friend who, due to a crippling illness, might have otherwise been alone.  We shall miss his generous spirit but will make sure to raise a glass to him today.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

As my life ebbs and flows, either zipping by faster than I'd like it to, or plodding along at a snail's pace, I make a conscious effort to take the time and appreciate all that I am surrounded by; my family, my friends both near and far, my beloved formerly feral feline friend, Norton, my good health and sound mind.  I suppose a day like today, Thanksgiving, is the culmination of it all.  To have an opportunity of sharing in the good fellowship of our jolly dining companions is yet another reason to give thanks.

Chronica Domus
Now that the table is set, I'm off to the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven
Photo: Chronica Domus


I hope that you too, no matter your circumstances and wherever you might find yourself today, have something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

CD


Monday, November 13, 2017

Of Aubergines and Coddiwomples

Chronica Domus
An Old Paris Porcelain reticulated fruit basket filled with aubergines makes an unusual 
autumn centerpiece
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do so enjoy a bit of fun with words and every now and then, I come across a real corker.  I can't quite remember where I first heard the word coddiwomple but when I did, I immediately shared it with my husband.  "Ah", he said, "that's a good one, and a bit like me when I'm looking for the trail on one of my backpacking expeditions".  How, we wondered, had we not previously known of this lovely word while living it on many occasions?

"To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination" is, in essence, to coddiwomple.  I'm sure that you too have had occasion to coddiwomple without knowing you were actually doing so. I partook in a bit of it myself this past Saturday as I trolled the farmers' market for something suitable to fashion into a table centerpiece in preparation for our Sunday lunch guests.

I had already decided I would avoid the use of autumnal gourds and squashes.  I'll be saving those for our Thanksgiving table next week.  Flowers too were a no-go in light of the fact that nipping down to the city's excellent flower market was not on the books on this particularly over-scheduled day.  As such, I found myself wandering towards a vague destination in terms of what to do about my centerpiece dilemma.  Or, to sum things up rather tidily, I found myself coddiwompling.

After considerable dithering, I settled upon something rather unexpected; a delightful melange of jewel-sized aubergines in shades ranging from deepest purple to creamy white.  Corralled in a pretty Old Paris Porcelain reticulated fruit basket, the arrangement qualified as possibly the most unusual centerpiece that has ever graced our dining table.  It was, as it turned out, a wonderful ice-breaker too, with our guests exclaiming how marvelous it looked, and what fun to it was to use items more commonly confined to the kitchen.

Chronica Domus
The aubergines were a big - and unexpected - hit with our Sunday lunch guests
Photo: Chronica Domus


I always find it so rewarding to stumble across a previously unknown (at least to me) word in the English language.  And, when that word is as fun to utter as coddiwomple well, I just can't help myself from repeating it.  And often!

When was the last time you found yourself coddiwompling, and what unusual things have found their way onto your dining table as a centerpiece?  Do please let me know.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Breathing New Life Into Old Drawers

nota bene: At the risk of eliciting a few chuckles from my readers, brought about by the title of today's post, this essay really is all about reviving an old chest of drawers, and has nothing whatsoever to do with those other types of drawers, thank you very much! 


Sometimes I despair at how long it can take to find just the right item of furniture when looking to furnish the rooms of our house.  I don't make things easy on myself having a predilection for American Federal and English Regency furnishings and decorative arts. These things are, after all, not exactly in abundance here on the relatively young West coast of the United States. I do, however, remind myself that all good things are worth the wait.

Earlier this year, Lady Luck took pity on me while trolling an outdoor antiques market and presented me with the opportunity of snapping up the chest of drawers you see below.

Chronica Domus 
Photo: Chronica Domus


Sorely in need of more storage space, this useful piece of furniture fit the bill.  In fact, I had been on the lookout for a Federal era chest of drawers for a number of years and this one was well worth the wait. The price was right too; embarrassingly so.  Having arranged for the chest's delivery with the dealer, I finally took possession of it several weeks after purchase.

Overall, the chest was in good condition for its age.  One of its prior owners had obviously cared for it enough to have the central panel of the backboard repaired a numbers of years ago, as well as one of the drawer bottoms.  Fortunately, the original finish and brass hardware remain intact.  I believe this bowfront mahogany chest was likely made in Massachusetts around 1810 - 1825. Of course, I would be delighted to learn more about such early American chests if any of you reading this would care to enlighten me.

The first thing I did to revive this tired looking Sleeping Beauty was to remove the stamped brass drawer knobs and corresponding back plates. They were filthy!  Setting to work with my trusty bottle of Brasso, a soft flannel cloth, and a bit of old-fashioned elbow grease, I soon had these beauties twinkling.

Chronica Domus
What a difference a bit of elbow grease and a few dabs of Brasso make to these Federal era stamped brass drawer knobs and back plates
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Within an hour, I had restored all eight drawer knobs and back plates to their former gleaming glory
Photo: Chronica Domus


Next, my very handy husband took care of a couple of splits in the bottoms of two of the four drawers. Some hide glue, a few clamps, and a bit of patience soon put things right (thank you, Dearest!).

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


A once over with the vacuum cleaner removed heaps of dirt from the chest's dusty cavity.  It also unearthed these:

Chronica Domus
It's surprising what lurks within the nooks and crannies of an old chest of drawers
Photo: Chronica Domus


I then wiped the internal surfaces of each drawer with a damp cloth and allowed sufficient time for them to dry.  Remembering the stash of assorted wallpaper rolls in our basement, I trotted downstairs to see what was what.  You might be surprised to learn how handy a remnant roll of wallpaper or two is for little household projects.  It's not just for walls you know!

Chronica Domus
After making a template of one of the drawer bottoms with brown paper, I used it to
cut out four drawer liners from a remnant roll of marbled wallpaper
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
The marbled wallpaper liners are now secured in place with the aid of old-fashioned
brass drawing pins 
Photo: Chronica Domus


An application of furniture wax and plenty of buffing soon returned a glow to the old finish.  It also banished the unsightly moisture marks created by the glass lamps which sat upon the chest's top that fog-drenched day I spotted it for sale (seen in the first photograph of this post).

One final but important task remained.  To prevent the drawers from sticking, which can be quite a nuisance once they have been filled, I reached for an old candle stub.

Chronica Domus
Spent candles come in handy for waxing drawer runners
Photo: Chronica Domus


By rubbing a spent candle stub along the bottom of each runner, the drawers are again able to glide smoothly into position, just as they did when the piece was made two-hundred years ago.

Chronica Domus
All that elbow grease has really paid off!
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am delighted at how a little tender loving care and attention has helped breath new life into these old drawers. And, let me just add that this handsome and sturdy piece of furniture should never be underestimated for its usefulness around the house.  In fact, I think it is a great pity that most people confine chests of drawers to just the bedroom. This one, I am pleased to say, now resides in our dining room.  And, until I one day find the perfect sideboard, this is exactly where it will remain.  Stuffed full of napery, silver, and other assorted dining-related paraphernalia, everything is now within easy reach of setting the table.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Of course, every piece of furniture is enhanced by a small autumnal arrangement of 
ornamental cabbages, would you not agree?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
The Federal mahogany bowfront chest of drawers in situ
(Yes, that's right, the dining room floors are still bare but I'm hopeful this too will be 
rectified one of these days!)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Tell me, is there a useful chest of drawers in your house that is not confined to a bedroom and if so, where did you place it and what does it hold?


Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Husband's Remembrance on All Souls' Day

Chronica Domus
This sorrowful scene of mourning from my personal collection is constructed 
entirely of human hair, circa 1830 - 1840
Photo: Chronica Domus


Today, November 2, is All Souls' Day.  It is a day observed by many around the world who take time to reflect upon their dearly departed family members and friends.  Here at Chronica Domus it has become an annual tradition to share a piece of mourning art from my collection on this dedicated day of remembrance.

In this post, I have selected an unusually large piece to show you.  Not only is its size noteworthy, standing five inches high and four inches wide, sans frame, but the mourning scene itself is unusual in that it includes the mourner.  And, like many of the other pieces in my collection that I've written about (here, here, and here,) the entire scene is made of human hair.  I imagine the inclusion of the mourner, and the overall size - similar artworks are no bigger than two to three inches in diameter - reflect upon the wealth and social standing of whoever had it commissioned.  These were not inexpensive keepsakes which might explain their scarcity.

Chronica Domus
A detailed view of the skillfully executed and poignant mourning scene
(not the easiest item to photograph as it resides behind glass)
Photo: Chronica Domus

The forlorn mourner is seen leaning against a gravestone.  In his left hand is a handkerchief which he no doubt uses to dab away tears of sorrow.  It must be a cold day because he is dressed not only in a jacket but in an overcoat as well.    

From what I can determine reading the slightly blurry inscription on the stone, the gentleman is indeed a husband, mourning his deceased wife.  This sentimental hair memento, like most of the others in my collection, was made in France.  I believe it dates to around 1830 - 1840.  The inscription, written in French, best translates to English as "I will always cherish the memories, a tribute to my good wife".

The dealer from which I purchased this tender mourning scene had located it in England, along with a companion piece depicting another male mourner.  Perhaps that gentleman was a grown son.  I only wish I had known about the companion piece before it had sold to another buyer.  How nice to have had an opportunity to keep the pair together for posterity.  

Sadly, I cannot make out most of the inscription scribbled on the back of the frame, written with a lead pencil, in French, many years ago.  

Chronica Domus
Can any of you decipher what this scrawly inscription reads, I would dearly love to know?
(Image kindly enhanced by Toby Worthington)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
"Neé Ferté" is a reference to the deceased wife's maiden name
Photo: Chronica Domus


There is some damage to the right-hand corner of the ebonized frame but not so much as to have deterred me from adding it to my collection.  Perhaps one day I will find a similar frame to replace it with or have someone make one.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


As I grow older, there seem to be more cherished friends, family members, and beloved animal companions for whom I take a few moments to reflect upon each year on this day of remembrance.  My fond recollections of all the good times shared and all the fun we've enjoyed together never fail but to bring a smile to my face.

Is there anyone special you'll be remembering with fondness today, on All Souls' Day?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Betwixt The Seasons

There is something so endearing about this time of year here in Northern California.  The dregs of summer are barely holding on in the garden with the last few tomatoes clinging to the withering vines, and a final clutch of cheery summer nasturtiums offering themselves up for gathering just as autumn creeps upon us.

Chronica Domus
Summer's last nasturtiums gathered this morning and placed in an earthenware
vessel to brighten up the kitchen
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Sweet White Currant tomatoes holding on for dear life
Photo: Chronica Domus

The subtle signs of autumn play 'peek-a-boo' with the foliage.  Look here!  The first wisteria leaflet splashed in warming shades of amber.

Chronica Domus
Aha, a turning leaf upon the climbing wisteria ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
... and here's another, signaling autumn's arrival
Photo: Chronica Domus


It's funny to celebrate the colors of these few turning leaves when I think back on childhood memories of knee-deep piles of them, blown across from the woodland, only to settle in the front garden. There were many October Saturday mornings spent raking seemingly endless piles of oak leaves into the wheelbarrow in the company of my two younger sisters and my father.  We made a game of it so that what would otherwise have been a wearisome task became a fun but exhausting rite of autumn.

Of course, that special golden light that rakes across our house in the afternoon is yet another undeniable signal that autumn is here.  The intensely saturated sunsets too have been nothing short of spectacular as of late.  I captured this one a few weeks ago on our travels home across the Bay.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


And, although our daytime temperatures are mild at present, I am certain all of that will soon come to an end.  Last night was the first night I felt as though I needed a blanket to get me through the cooler night air.

How is it where you live?  Are you betwixt the seasons or did autumn arrive on cue with the calendar, in the latter part of September?  Please, do tell me.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Norton's October Adventure

I've spent all of Friday and Saturday fretting over this little fellow:  

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


I last saw him darting out of the balcony door as I sat down to dinner with my family on Thursday evening.  Our little friend Norton is both an indoor and outdoor cat and spends most of his waking hours in the garden basking in the sunshine and keeping company with another feral stray that took up residence there a few years ago.  At dusk, he makes his way into the house for cuddles and then onto bed.   Occasionally, he is nowhere to be seen when we turn in so remains outdoors overnight, greeting us first thing in the morning with a "meow" that signifies it is time for breakfast.

Norton failed to appear on Friday morning but I didn't think much of it.  However, by Friday night my usual sunny disposition took a backseat to an uncomfortably uneasy feeling that something was not quite right.  After fruitlessly searching the neighborhood on foot and knocking on neighbors' doors, my husband and I drove to the nearest animal shelter in case someone had found him and dropped him off.

I cannot express enough how terribly gut-wrenching that experience was.  Being guided through four very packed "Lost and Found" rooms of surrendered or stray animals while searching for Norton was nothing short of depressing.  Animals housed in the smallest imaginable metal cages, stacked one on top of the other, with no human contact ("No Touching Allowed" signs are everywhere), was more than I could handle.  I was moved to tears.  Asking the animal technician about those poor creatures, we learned that the animals are held for four days, then medically and temperamentally assessed before being "processed" for adoption.  Some, unfortunately, never see the light of day again.  The dogs were housed separately so I can't speak to them, but the animals we saw were mainly kittens and cats, rabbits and, would you believe it, chickens.  Frankly, I was taken aback - nay shocked - at how many grown rabbits had ended up in this pitiful place.  I imagine most were given to children at Easter and discarded once fully grown by parents coming to the realization that these adorable sentient creatures require care and attention and are not just trinkets to be included in their child's Easter basket.

I fully understand that animal shelters do wonderful work for the thousands of homeless animals and former pets that require rehousing.  However, the very fact they exist at all speaks volumes about our attitude towards animals.  I can only implore those that wish to add an animal companion to their lives to please consider adoption first, to spay or neuter (I shan't soon forget the sight of a nursing mother cat and her litter of kittens crammed into one of those metal cages at the shelter), and to know that animal companions are for life.  Some, in fact, are destined to outlive us so provisions for their care should be considered long before we've shuffled off this mortal coil.

Not finding Norton at the shelter was encouraging.  Perhaps he'd just strayed from home and lost his way and would take a little longer than usual to return.  By Saturday night, however, that glimmer of hope was rapidly fading.  He'd never before strayed from home for three consecutive nights.  Would I ever have the pleasure of seeing his sweet little face again?

Worry had kept me up most of the night.  Before anyone else in the household was awake, I headed outdoors to scour the neighborhood once again.  As I was about to leave, I was met at the door by Norton.  I momentarily imagined I had seen him, like some feline phantasm, but no, it really was Norton.  He let out his familiar "meow" greeting which was just enough to convince me that my mind was not playing tricks on me. At long last, Norton had returned, cold and hungry but seemingly unharmed. What a glorious Sunday surprise!

Chronica Domus
Norton safely tucked into his basket after breakfast on Sunday morning ...
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
...and, still snoozing later on Sunday afternoon
Photo: Chronica Domus


As I sit here at the breakfast room table tapping away at my keyboard on Monday morning, Norton is nearby keeping me company.  He's been indoors for over twenty-four hours and, I think he likes it that way.  At least for now.  I wonder what it was that kept him from us for so many nights, and where his travels took him, and what he saw?  I joked to my husband that his disappearance must have been a celestial trick. After all, Norton did fail to return home on Thursday evening, the night of October's orange Harvest Moon which, for those that saw it, was spectacularly large, hanging low over the night sky.

Whatever caused our dear little friend to take his leave of us, we are full of joy at his safe return and most grateful to be reunited.  I only wish those dear little animals at the shelter also find good homes to live out the remainder of their lives.  Our pets sure do have a way of giving us a few gray hairs.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Visit To Hyde Hall

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

Secreted away within Glimmerglass State Park's rolling woodland, and just at the edge of picturesque Otsego Lake, you'll find one of America's finest neoclassical country houses, and one which I had the distinct pleasure of visiting earlier this summer.

As you can see from the photograph above, although Hyde Hall could easily be mistaken for a nobleman's pile set deep within the English or Irish countryside, this splendid nineteenth century limestone house does indeed sit prettily in upstate New York, just eight miles from Cooperstown.  To be perfectly fair, Hyde Hall does have a strong association with England as the man who built it, George Clarke (1768-1835), was indeed English.  The architect, Philip Hooker, hailed from nearby Albany.

Built between 1817 - 1834 with inherited money from his namesake great grandfather, George Clarke turned Hyde Hall into the crown jewel of his sprawling 120,000 acre estate.  Successive generations of the Clarke family, many of them also named George, lived happily in the house until the 1940's. In 1955, Thomas Hyde Clarke (b. 1936) inherited the estate but failed to keep it in the family when the state of New York claimed the house and 600 surrounding acres by eminent domain so as to create a state park.  Shockingly, with no funds available for the house's upkeep, demolition loomed.  If it were not for the tireless efforts of The Friends of Hyde Hall, a group which formed in 1964 to save the house and make it available for the enjoyment of the public, Hyde Hall would most certainly not have survived.  What a travesty that would have been!  Today, Hyde Hall is a National Historic Landmark and is open to visitors from the end of May through October.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

Our mid-morning tour began at this charming 1820's structure known as the Tin Top Gatehouse. Originally located at the entrance of Glimmerglass State Park, the gatehouse was moved to its current location in 1974 and has benefited from recent restoration efforts to convert it to a visitor center.  It was here that we met our guide, Gary, who delighted in showing us around the house and its grounds.

Chronica Domus
Say hello to Gary our erudite guide
Photo: Chronica Domus

What I really enjoyed most about poking around this enormous mansion, and what sets it apart from many other historic house museums I have visited, is that Hyde Hall is far from being "done up", by any stretch of the imagination, and that's just fine with me.  As one who enjoys and appreciates the painstakingly involved processes of restoration and renovation, and all the minutiae revolving around such ventures, it was a rare treat to have an opportunity of viewing first-hand the numerous projects currently underway throughout the house.  

Chronica Domus
Hyde Hall's entry door is flanked by four enormous columns
Photo: Chronica Domus

Let's start at the front door.  Unfortunately, I missed photographing the tilted bollards either side of the entrance steps as I could not wait to cross the iron threshold.  Obviously, my photo-journalistic skills are in great need of improvement.  In my defense, my enthusiasm to see Hyde Hall did, I admit, get the better of me. Gary explained that the bollards prevented chipping and damage to the limestone from the procession of carriages that deposited the family and their guests at the front door. In turn, the bollards themselves are tilted inwards, thereby preventing damage to the carriages' wheel hubs.

Once inside, I was so distracted and absorbed by the many details of the entrance hall that I immediately fell behind our little tour group of five as I snapped away with my camera.  As such, I failed to take detailed photographs of the drawing room. Oops!

Chronica Domus
The Scottish drum-head tall case clock makes a bold statement in the entrance hall
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Another splendid detail of the entrance hall is this recently installed, over-sized, early-nineteenth century Argand lantern, restored to perfection and mounted on a pulley for ease of lighting
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Although costly Brussels carpets or other floor coverings are nowhere in sight, one must obviously do one's best to remove mud from one's boots upon entering the house, done with the aid of a portable iron boot scrape and a rather charming long-handled bristle contraption
Photo: Chronica Domus

The only photograph I managed to take of the drawing room, as I raced to catch up with Gary and the group, was the image you see below showing one of a pair of fanciful gilded valances likely made by Lawton Annesley of Albany, New York, a dealer in mirrors and picture frames.  The ceilings in this room are a neck-cracking nineteen feet high.  One can only imagine how many yards of fabric were required to make the curtains for this room.

Acanthus and anthemion motifs give off a distinctly Greek vibe to this
beautifully carved and gilded valance
Photo: Chronica Domus

On the other side of the entrance hall is the grand dining room.  As you can see, the room is in the midst of an extensive renovation project so all the furniture, which is original to the house, was under wraps.

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The two vapor-light chandeliers, purchased in 1833, dominate the dining room
Photo: Chronica Domus

A large part of the project focuses around the restoration of the walls, specifically the removal of the Victorian color scheme.  In a historic house such as Hyde Hall this involves much more work than simply painting over an unwanted color.

Here's what the dining room looked like before the restoration project began

With the addition of sparkly mica and black pigment mixed into a lime wash, the room will again appear as it did in 1830.  The resulting wall surface should match the marbleized original finish of the nearby drawing room and entrance hall walls.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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A view of the dining room's window shutters draped with protective plastic sheeting
Photo: Chronica Domus

Hyde Hall is so large that I had a difficult time keeping track of the floor plan.  From what I could determine the main house, known as the Great House, the section into which we entered, is just one of three which comprise the whole.  The Great House was built between 1828 - 1833 and includes the entertaining rooms of Hyde Hall.  The oldest part of the house, built in 1817, was once a free-standing south facing stone structure.  That section of the house includes the family living quarters which spans ten rooms. The third part of the house is where the service quarters and second floor bedrooms are located.  Over time, as Hyde Hall was extended, a central courtyard emerged. Here it is, seen in the photograph below:

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The central courtyard can be glimpsed through the window of the smaller family dining room
which is in the original 1817 part of the house
Photo: Chronica Domus


A stylish solution to heating the family dining room
Photo: Chronica Domus


I was smitten with the dozen armchairs and side chairs found in the family dining room, 
carved with a pretty leaf motif and made by John Meads, a leading local cabinetmaker, in 1819
Photo: Chronica Domus

As the name implies, the family dining room is where the family ate their everyday meals.  The room is a far more intimate space than the grand dining room.  Notice too that unlike the rooms of the Great House, with their marbleized walls which give off a rather chilly appearance, this room is painted in a warm apricot color.  I like the family dining room because of  the way it is furnished, and for the beautiful window which looks out onto the central courtyard.  I also think the view into the room, which I captured below, is particularly appealing thanks in no small part to the handsome fanlight.  One is instinctively drawn to the light-filled room after travelling along a dark and narrow corridor.

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I loved the fanlight atop the door which leads into the small family dining room
Photo: Chronica Domus

I can't quite recall how I ended up behind the family dining room but once there, I was tempted to rest for a moment at this lovely little table where a game of backgammon was in progress:

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The backgammon board appears to be fashioned in the form of a book
Photo: Chronica Domus

Truly lost within the maze of rooms at this stage of the tour, I believe the next room I stumbled into was George Clarke's office.  Here it is complete with some "updates":

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A view into George Clarke's office
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Notice the heavy Tudoresque ceiling beams installed by a later descendant of George Clarke
and quite out of period to the rest of the architecture in the 1817 portion of the house
Photo: Chronica Domus

Wandering past other rooms, including a chapel, formerly Mrs. Clarke's bed chamber and sitting room, we found this pretty and airy room.

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A cozy spot for tea in front of the outer library's fireplace
Photo: Chronica Domus


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One of a pair of restored Argand lamps that flank the outer library's mantelshelf
Photo: Chronica Domus

This room is part of a two-room library where twin banks of mahogany bookcases stand.  These were commissioned by George Clarke from a local cabinetmaker.

This is one of two green baize-fronted mahogany bookcases which grace the inner and outer libraries, made by cabinetmaker Thaddeus Lacy, circa 1820 - 1821, in nearby Cooperstown
Photo: Chronica Domus

These rooms, whose walls are painted in a cheery apple-green tone, are flooded with natural light which might explain why the bookcases are fronted with green baize.  As you can imagine, owning a sizable collection of leather-bound books must have cost a pretty penny in Mr. Clarke's day so their protection was paramount to both their enjoyment and longevity.

Again, the layout of this house has proved entirely perplexing to my recollections but onto the service wing we go.

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This is one of my favorite views of the interior of Hyde Hall
Photo: Chronica Domus

To access the upstairs bed chambers, one must ascend this lovely tiger maple wooden staircase with its newly installed ingrain carpet.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


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The glorious detail of the tiger maple staircase was not lost on me
Photo: Chronica Domus

Once upstairs the jumble of rooms became a blur to my excited mind.  All hope of photographically recording any of it was lost when our guide took our small group into the bed chamber, located above the Great House's portico. This is what I saw:

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The supremely beautiful and tranquil view from the bed chamber
whose railing was made by Amos Fish of Albany, New York in 1833
Photo: Chronica Domus

Surely, this was Arcadia.  All I could think of doing was pulling up a chair and breathing in the stunning vista before me. Is it any wonder Mr. Clarke selected this remote spot, at the edge of Otsego Lake and the wooded hills beyond, to build his magnificent house?

My poor husband had to nudge me out of the room when it was time to resume the final portion of our tour, so transfixed was I by the view.  Ah well, down the stairs we go.

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Looking down the main staircase showing the elliptical half-curves of its design - interestingly, several of the balusters are grained and painted to resemble the handrail's mahogany wood
Photo: Chronica Domus


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I'm not sure where this delightful curved door leads, positioned beneath the main
staircase, but I desperately wanted to peek inside
Photo: Chronica Domus

The service quarters of Hyde Hall were brimming with exciting developments.  It is here that much work is underway to restore the kitchen and housekeeper's room to how it appeared in 1835.

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Is there anything more thrilling to behold than the sight of equipment being readied 
for an army of plasterers and carpenters to work their magic?
Photo: Chronica Domus


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An adjoining room being readied for restoration
Photo: Chronica Domus

The room you see below, which held the family's china and porcelain - some of which would normally reside on the dining table of the great dining room but has been mothballed until that restoration project is complete - was lined with the most charmingly detailed shelving.

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What a beautiful profile!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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I spy pieces of old Paris Porcelain in among the pewter plates
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Oh how I too could benefit from an entire room dedicated to the storage of  
overflowing collections of dining accoutrements
Photo: Chronica Domus

Alas, finding our way back into the entrance hall heralded the conclusion of our visit. This had certainly been a fascinating amble through a house that is steadily reverting to the beacon of beauty she had so long ago been.  I look forward to an encore visit once the dust has settled.

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Photo: Chronica Domus

Do please consider stopping by Hyde Hall the next time you find yourself in the Cooperstown, New York area. The formidable efforts of those responsible for the ongoing restoration of this historic house should be commended.  It really is rather special.

Hyde Hall
267 Glimmerglass State Park
Cooperstown
New York, 13326


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